Duke Basketball: Biggest Keys for Blue Devils' Success Entering ACC Play

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Duke Basketball: Biggest Keys for Blue Devils' Success Entering ACC Play
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils have enjoyed plenty of success on their nonconference slate but still have plenty to improve upon, and they must execute better in certain areas entering ACC play.

Mike Krzyzewski's squad has taken care of its schedule aside from an early loss to then-No. 5 Kansas and the current top team Arizona. But things will get much tougher as the Devils enter the conference slate, where they'll face a tough test week after week and won't have cupcake games to enjoy. 

Let's take a look at the biggest keys for Duke if it wants to win the ACC and enter the tournament as a top seed. 

 

Avoid Early Lapses

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

During last season, Duke put itself in an early hole in ACC play, and it led to the Blue Devils finishing second in the conference with a 14-4 record. 

In just the third game of the conference season, the Blue Devils visited a 20th-ranked N.C. State team and lost by eight for their first defeat of the entire season. Two games later, they fell to Miami in a 27-point beating and could never battle their way back into the top of the conference standings.

If Coach K wants his team to avoid a similar fate, Duke will need to take care of the early part of their schedule. Early tests against Georgia Tech, at Clemson, Virginia, N.C. State and at Miami don't jump off the page, but the Blue Devils can't afford overlook any of them.

And now with Syracuse in the conference, winning the ACC will be even tougher than it was in 2012-13. 

 

Give Jabari Parker Help on the Boards

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

As Duke's star scorer on offense and one of its greatest defenders, the Blue Devils can't afford for Jabari Parker to be the leading rebounder by such a sizable margin.

The phenom freshman averages 8.0 rebounds per game, while no other Blue Devils player averages more than 5.8. He accounts for nearly 25 percent of the team's rebounding presence.

This has led the Blue Devils to average just 35.3 rebounds per game, which ranks No. 200 in college basketball. That might be a statistic that Duke can get by with against mid-major opponents on the nonconference slate, but it won't be able to hide that against ACC teams that have size down low and good rebounding prowess.

Amile Jefferson, Rodney Hood and other important bench players will have to increase their rebounding numbers for Duke to gain an edge against some of its conference opponents.

 

Get Rasheed Sulaimon More Involved Offensively

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Not many expected Rasheed Sulaimon's minutes to increase by any means entering the season, but this sort of dropoff in his sophomore season has given Duke fewer options in the offensive set.

After averaging 29.2 minutes and 11.6 points per game as a freshman, the only knock on Sulaimon's season is that he only shot 42 percent from the field. But he has dropped off noticeably so far in the 2013-14 season.

At this point in the season, Sulaimon has only played 20 minutes on average and puts up just 7.4 points per game. He's also shooting at a lower efficiency, making 40 percent of his attempts. 

The Blue Devils don't always need Sulaimon's impact on the offensive end to be at peak performance, with Parker, Hood and Quinn Cook lighting it up.

But if Duke is going to play up to its potential and win nearly all of its ACC games, the Blue Devils will need more of an impact from Sulaimon, whether it's a spark off the bench or getting him more involved with the starters. 

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